We’re three days into rehearsal for Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Willy B. Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure and we finally read through the script. Finally! What did we do for six plus hours of pre-game, pre-season preparation? Oh, wondrous things!
There was minutia of course. Nuts-and-bolts forms to fill out, talk about director Rebecca Blum’s vision for the production, ice-breaking games, focusing exercises, exercises in clowning- Something at which I am a natural in both the vernacular and the narrowly defined living in the moment, needing affirmation, all-in, emotionally childish sense-, exercises for milling about in a crowded city square and exercises to encapsulate, crystallize and portray microcosmic, ultra-cosmic aspects of Measure’s essence. So, yeah, we’ve been busy.
Way back on day one we began with that nuttiest of bolts, getting measured for Measure For Measure; I stood in line behind Rosemary Richards, a teeny, tiny young woman. Director Blum has cast children in this dark “comedy,” this show about power, lust, damnation and fornication. There’s license, there’s prostitutes, drinking, forced sex, abandonment and a near constant drum beat, beat, beat of the ubiquitousness of sex based inequality. Kids! Blum has kids in this show! Genius, edge of sword genius.
Rosemary is smaller as an adult than I was as a ten-year-old-child and she stands before me in tights and a clingy long-sleeve tee that shows just how small she is. I look at her and think, ‘This woman can’t be more than five feet tall and eighty-five pounds!’ (152 cm/39 Kg) She’s so petite that I almost ask her if my assessment of her height and weight is correct but I self-edit and bite my tongue. Too soon to fly my crazy-as-a-loon flag. I’ll wait for a more opportune moment to make my impertinent inquiry.
Fast forward from day-one, minute-one to day-three, minute thirty-three and teeny-tiny Rosemary along with age mate Karen Morgan Williams and I are engaged in the aforementioned exercises to encapsulate, crystallize and portray microcosmic, ultra-cosmic aspects of Measure’s essence when I say to Rosemary, “Forgive this impertinent question, but how tall are you? Five-feet-nothin’?”
Rosemary kindly smiles at me, shakes her head and, standing to the fullest extent of her towering height, informs that she is a full 3.333 percent higher than my estimation and stands at five-feet-two, a height one foot shorter than my own. “Okay,” says I, “then that means I need to up my original assessment of your massiveness. So, what do you weigh? Ninety-five pounds?”
“Yes!” she acknowledges with another bright smile.
“Cool,” says I, adding my oft-told lie that I once guessed age, height and weight as a carny.
The exercise that Rosemary, Karen and I share opens my eyes about the torment of Rosemary’s character, Isabella, in relation to my mostly benign character, Friar Peter. We do a line-free, voiceless presentation of Isabella’s torture and at the end I literally fall to my knees and tears fill my eyes. This Shakespeare dude’s really got it going on!
I have a strong protection instinct. Though a coward by nature, if I see someone being bullied I cast aside my no-drama-persona, passive-aggressive self and become aggressive-aggressive. This is especially true with smaller people and soon becomes pertinent.
Finished with our exercises, we begin our script read-through. Some cast members will be arriving late, and director Blum asks me to fill in for Wade Newhouseour’s Angelo. My mouth twitches in irony. I lusted to portray Angelo, and I respond with a hearty, “You bet!”
I am a fair actor, but I excel at oral reading. Rosemary is doing a dynamite job of bringing our read-through to life as are Laura J. Parker as Elbow and Benjamin Tarlton as Lucio. There is little in the world that stokes my old man fires more than having an opportunity to play and I do my damndest to measure up to the actors initial presentation of Measure. All is well until things get heated. Sexually heated, Rapey heated.
Friar Peter (Me!) is not rapey and I have just interacted with Isabella (Rosemary) in a very Friar Peter exercise and now I am portraying Angelo, her absolute nemesis and would be rapist. Holy Batman, Adam West! What have I done?
My suspension of disbelief had been humming along and then the rug is pulled out from underneath my feet and I tumble. My heart is broken, my eyes tear filled as “I”, Angelo, assault dear, little, Isabella, the woman “I,” Friar Peter, has formed a fatherly affection and protectionist bond with. Can you say, Cybill Shepherd, “I’m her mother! I’m her sister!”?
Whoa, and woe! What a heart-string plucking, perfect casting job Rebecca Blum has done with the selection of Rosemary Richards as Isabella.
Theatre. It is wondrous.